Mama taught us better! A call to close American torture chambers

Published April 14th, 2013 - 09:48 GMT
Torture chambers taint America's image
Torture chambers taint America's image

I grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, an American steel town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.

The steelworkers in our town came from all over the world, but mostly from Eastern Europe.

Though I grew up among dozens of accents, there was never a thought that those differences made anyone better or worse.

We wouldn't have dreamed of treating a schoolmate whose parents came from Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Poland differently because of where they came from.

When I visited my Polish friend in his home, I didn't understand his parents and they didn't speak English, but when there was a wedding in the family, we all danced the Polka together.

If a Hungarian boy got into trouble for a minor theft, he wasn't treated any worse because his parents were immigrants.

We knew about people who treated others inhumanely from the stories about hundreds of Japanese in internment camps and the way African Americans were treated in the South.

The miniseries Roots was edifying, especially for northerners, revealing how slaves were treated.

Mistreating others in a way you wouldn't treat members of your own family or tribe makes you superior in your own eyes.

Only in the past decade have I heard about Americans mistreating others in ways that we wouldn't have dreamed of in my youth.

These incidents have been much worse than the way Americans treated Japanese in internment camps.

The horrendous treatment meted out by Americans has been toward Arabs - many more Arabs than could have been involved in planning and supporting 9/11.

If 9/11 provided the motivation for punishing Arabs, the punishment has far exceeded any reasonable reckoning for what happened that day.

Seeing photos of Arabs tortured by young American jailers in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, was enough to make you feel sick - not only because of what was happening to the prisoners, but also the twisted delight the Americans were enjoying.

Seeing how they stripped bare Arabs and forced them into horrific positions, frightening them with dogs and torturing them with electric currents, I couldn't help wondering what had happened to these Americans that would allow such treatment.

There was similar torture and worse at Guantanamo, which I found even more repugnant and stomach-turning.

To hear people like former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney defending waterboarding was so loathsome that I wanted to see them arrested and tried for their horrific crimes against humanity.

More and more truths came out of Guantanamo and the US government had to release many of their victims, who spent years in prison.

The figures for Guantanamo are telling: 779 detainees were held since the start, but 600 were released with no charges.

However, they had to endure torture from their terrorist jailers and none of them received compensation for false imprisonment.

Among 166 detainees remaining, 86 have been approved for transfer but remain imprisoned.

Those who remain imprisoned have never been charged with an offence nor tried by a court.

In a Washington Post article Thomas Wilner, a US lawyer who represented Guantanamo inmates, wrote that President Barack Obama said "Guantanamo has probably created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained" and that "Guantanamo has undermined America's moral authority".

"It is time to get serious about closing Guantanamo," he concluded.

It's also time to stop inculcating a belief in American youth that torturing fellow human beings is acceptable behaviour.

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